National Geographic : 1949 Apr
Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) AS A DIAMOND "digger" at the age of 24, Cecil Rhodes passed many months on a solitary trek, on foot or on an ox wagon, exploring the hinterland of Cape Colony. He was thinking out, as he toiled in South Africa, both his own future and the future of man kind. Before he had amassed his great for tune, he made a will disposing of it! In his will Rhodes makes his "Confes sion of Faith": "It often strikes a man to in quire what is the chief good in life; to one the thought comes that it is a happy marriage, to another a great wealth, and as each seizes on the idea, for that he more or less works for the rest of his existence. To myself, thinking over the same question, the wish came to me to render myself useful to my country. . ." The young Englishman had two main ob jects: to promote the welfare of the British Commonwealth, and to unite the whole Eng lish-speaking race, which he regarded as "one of the chief of God's chosen engines for execut ing coming improvements in the lot of man kind." To him it was a matter of indifference whether the capital of the English-speaking world was in Washington or London; as modus vivendi he suggested alternating terms of five years for Washington and London as the su preme seat of government. The son of a country vicar, of yeoman stock, Rhodes was born at Bishop's Stortford, in Hertfordshire. His health broke down when he was only 16 years old, and he suffered from heart trouble all his life. In 1870 he was sent out to Natal to join his eldest brother, Herbert, who was growing cotton. Diamonds had just been discovered near Kimberley, and Herbert Rhodes joined the rush for the diggings, leav ing his young brother to wind up affairs on the farm. Just a year after his arrival, Rhodes, a tall, shy youth, set out for Kimberley with an ox drawn Scotch cart, a pickax, a shovel, a Greek lexicon, and a well-thumbed copy of Marcus Aurelius. Diamonds as a means of obtaining wealth were the lure, but at the back of his mind was the hope that he would earn enough money to enable him to complete his education at Oxford. Once at Kimberley, Rhodes soon found himself in possession of his brother's claim. Herbert returned to England. The dry air of the high veld agreed with Rhodes, and he prospered. Two years after his arrival at Kimberley he achieved his ambi tion of going to Oxford, and matriculated at Oriel College. For eight years he divided his life between the rough surroundings of the dia mond diggings and the cultured environment of scholastic life at Oxford. Despite the in- creasing calls of South Africa, he took a pass degree at Oxford in 1881. Rhodes crammed into 20 years' accomplish ments what few other men could have attained in half a century. At 21 he was one of the most successful diggers, and by 1880 he con trolled the De Beers mines, named after the original Dutch owner of the land. He made his first will after a serious heart attack in 1877. In 1889 his sixth and last will left his fortune of six million pounds to promote great causes. The will established the Rhodes Trust which provides at Oxford 100 scholar ships for students from the United States and 60 for students from the British Empire. The year before he took his degree he was elected as a member for Barkly West in the Cape Par liament, a seat which he retained all his life. Rhodes was largely responsible for secur ing the hinterland of Cape Colony. He be came Prime Minister of the Colony in 1890 and resigned in 1896. Thanks to him, Ger man plans to halt British expansion northward were checked. With the establishment of Rhodesia, a vast and fertile area was added to the Empire. He had genius for handling men. In the Matabele campaign when the rebels had been driven into the impregnable fastnesses of the Matopo Hills, warfare which might drag on for years seemed inevitable. Rhodes caused word to be sent to the Matabele that he was there, to have his throat cut if necessary, but he was ready to have it out with them, and would come to them, undefended, to hear their side of the case. Accompanied by an interpreter, he met the chiefs in the heart of the Matopos. During the discussions some younger chiefs got out of hand. Rhodes's companion advised him to escape, but he stood his ground and shouted to the Matabele, "Go back, I tell you!" They withdrew, and Rhodes asked the as sembled chiefs, "Is it peace or is it war?" Such was his magnetism that the answer was, "It is peace." After the South African War, Rhodes, who was in England early in 1902, was called back to South Africa on business. He was now completely broken in health as a result of terrible hardships endured during the long siege of Kimberley. On his return his con dition became worse. He was moved from his beloved Groote Schuur at the foot of Table Mountain to a little cottage by the sea at Muizenberg. There, after three weeks of great suffering heroically borne, he died at the age of 49. His last words were: "So little done, so much to do."